Wednesday, March 12, 2014

2014 VRPS Members in the Community: Julie Saum

by Julie Saum, CTRS, Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitative Center and Nancy Turnage, VRPS Central Office


Julie Saum, CTRS, is a Recreation Therapist for Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center and is currently working towards re-inventing the VRPS Therapeutic Recreation Resource Group.

Can you provide some background regarding the Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center – what you do there, what’s new for the facility, special projects.

WWRC is a comprehensive vocational rehabilitation center for the state of Virginia which houses a Life Skills program and multiple training areas for persons with various disabilities to support and assist them in finding gainful employment in their home communities.  WWRC serves clients who are in high school through the PERT (Post-Secondary Education Rehabilitation Transition) Program, but the majority of clients are post-high school (typically 19-23 years old, but they serve several clients who are 50+) – some have completed high school with a general diploma, some with a modified diploma, and others with no diploma.  WWRC offers a GED program for those who did not graduate from high school, along with the vocational training a student would receive while at the center.  Training areas offered include:  Auto Mechanics, Health Occupations (CNA, personal care attendant), Business Information Technology, Materials Handling, Food Service, Building Trades, as well as an external training option (if WWRC does not offer it in-house, WWRC will setup training for that job in the community).

WWRC also boasts wonderful Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy programs that provide all the typical PT and OT services, as well as specialized wheelchair fitting, adapting driving equipment, and driving instructors for both driving with and without adaptive driving equipment.  Many students who come to the center are able to get their Learner’s Permit and/or Driver’s License.  When the students are not in class, they may stay at their dorms, participating in activities there – lounging in the common areas, playing video games, sitting around a bonfire, playing volleyball, or they may go to the Recreation Hall.

The "Rec. Hall" is one of the most common areas for students and is open everyday, full of multiple choices of activities and supports for the students in the evening environment.  It's is setup much like a community recreation center – pool, gymnasium, bowling alley, art room, fitness center, auditorium (for movies, talent shows, special events, graduations, etc.), video game area (equipped with PS3, XBOX360, Wii and multiple TVs), lounge area with big screen TV, pool tables, Foosball, air hockey, ping pong, and a library/computer lab.  The recreation services staff leads activities to get the students involved, socializing with peers and staff, and appropriately navigating the social/evening environment.  Along with the other Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialists, I provide individual and group leisure education and leisure planning/counseling, anger management, Socialization through Recreation, Yoga and Relaxation, self-esteem programs, journaling, and other recreation therapy programs.

The Recreational Services department is proud to be involved in the community – participating in the holiday parade, hosting events for both the community and our students, volunteering, participating in the governor’s inaugural parade, etc.  We also field basketball, softball, volleyball, and touch-football teams that compete in the local parks and rec leagues and against other facilities in our area.  We have cheerleaders for the basketball and football teams and are hosting a cheerleading camp in March for any person with disabilities ("CheerAbility").  We take fishing, camping, and shopping trips; attend fairs and college sporting events – the possibilities really are endless with what we can do!

How/when did you become involved?  (What was your journey – I understand you came from Virginia Beach?)

started my “therapeutic journey” when I was about seven years old, when my brother was diagnosed with Hypomelanosis of Ito.  Immediately I jumped into the role of the loving, caring, and protective big sister, always wanting to be with my brother, helping him through whatever was going on, and being his biggest fan.  I started actually working in TR at age 11 as a volunteer with Virginia Beach Parks and Recreation, Therapeutic Recreation Programs, because my brother went to their summer camp, (being a very protective big sister I couldn't let him go by himself!).  I continued on with them part-time from that point all through high school and during college at Old Dominion University.

I always loved working with people with disabilities, emotional issues, or experiencing lonliness, etc.  In elementary school, I was a social butterfly, always wanting to talk with and help people, but working with TR programs completely solidified my decision to make it my career.  I loved the TR courses I took in college and joined a sorority, Alpha Xi Delta, whose mission was, at the time, to work with the “Choose Children” philanthropy.  In my sophomore year, our philanthropy changed to "Autism Speaks", and I couldn't have been happier.  I took any leadership position I could that would enable me to work more closely with Autism Speaks and children with Autism or similar disabilities, like my brother’s.

To complete my college career and become a CTRS, I had to find and complete an internship.  Through the help of my supervisor and mentor, Kathy Williams (CTRS, Virginia Beach Parks and Recreation), I found WWRC; it seemed that a wonderful opportunity just fell into my lap – but it meant moving 3.5 hours away to a very small town (especially compared to Virginia Beach) where I did not know anyone, but I took the leap of faith.

As I was completing my internship at WWRC, a full-time position opened at the center, so I had to make a life-changing choicef:  apply for this job and potentially stay at WWRC - 3.5 hours away from my family and friends (most importantly, my brother) - or return to Virginia Beach and jobhunt.  I loved working with Virginia Beach TR programs, but I also enjoyed working with the WWRC population and had visions of building upon their existing programs and implementing new ones. Again, I took a leap of faith, and applied … and got the job.

What was your greatest concern or doubt, and how did it turn out?  What steps have you taken as a result?

I was away from my family and friends … but then I found a best friend at work who later became my husband, so I’d say that worked out pretty well!  I also was concerned about being a new, young professional at a state facility and how I could implement change in an organization of over 300 staff and over 300 students – which takes time and effort.  This has been a continual process as I work to educate myself, other staff, and students on the value of different programs.  I have been successful with quite a few and seen valuable changes, while others have been slower to grow, but as I said, it is a continual process.

How do you feel your efforts with this initiative has strengthened you as an individual, a professional, and a VRPS member?

Because of this continual process of continuing to educate myself, other staff, and clients, I have been able to experience a great deal and earn some additional certifications.  I have learned not only about the different services/programs I want to offer, but also about how I can instill change as a young professional.  I have grown as a person and as a professional due to these challenges and have challenged myself further:
  • I led a presentation at the VRPS 2013 Annual Conference and am submitting a proposal to present again in December at the 2014 conference.
  • I have gathered a group of TR professionals to revive the VRPS Therapeutic Recreation Resource Group.
  • I am currently working on a state-wide resource day for families of individuals with disabilities to cover all ages and stages of life for those with disabilities.
  • I have always wanted to follow in the footsteps of my mentor, Kathy Williams, and her mentor, Beth Wood-Whitley, and be on the VRPS Board….hey, maybe one day I’ll run for VRPS President.
If you could choose one thing to happen for the VRPS Therapeutic Recreation Group in the future, what would it be?

I would like for VRPS to have a firm TR program in place that offers programs and a support infrastructure that is consistently utilized by students and staff with proven beneficial outcomes that can be shared and modeled throughout the state of Virginia and across the US … any volunteers who want to publicize us and our programs?!?!

What was your funniest moment or experience?

It’s hard to think of any one funny moment or experience – I spend much of my time laughing… that’s the benefit to working in this field!

Anything else you want to express or open for discussion?

I would just like to share how beneficial a mentor, or multiple mentors, can be.  When I started volunteering at age 11, the staff I worked with could have discounted me as just another body, just another source of free work, just another anything… but they didn’t.  They, specifically Kathy Williams, Jessica Rhea, Carolyn (Stark) Cox, and Bill Parker, are the reason I am who I am today.  Not only did they help me develop my professional style and learn by becoming constantly more invested in our participants, but they have also ALWAYS been a source of support for me.  My mentors are like another family to me – they have been my supervisors, a sounding board for my ideas, and friends - they have helped me through sticky situations (professionally and personally).  The experience they have shared with me has been invaluable, and there is no way I can ever thank them enough.  I think I can safely say no one ever has it ALL together, but when we partner with someone (or multiple people), together we can have it all.

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